October 30th, 2021
I woke up feeling great, I was well rested and ready to crush the last day. I think we were all ready to be done but the excitement of the last day superseded that feeling. And in truth I was feeling somewhat anxious about leading the last dive but I was looking forward to plunging one last time in these cold Canadian waters. We would do another dive off The thermocline at a different spot. The weather was cool but sunny and it was shaping up to be another perfect day. I sat in the breakfast nook sipping my coffee going over the dive plan, which was becoming my routine, and waiting for the garage to open up. Jon and SJ were up and getting tea and breakfast as well. Out of nowhere Jon got a text from Guy about a team meeting in 10 minutes at his house which was peculiar. I continued to sip coffee thinking maybe the weather had changed and he needed to revise the dive day.
In high spirits we walked over to the house and found Guy and Kelvin sitting in the kitchen with a pretty serious looks on their faces. Guy informed us that at least one of the members from the Tech 1 class prior to ours had tested positive for Covid when they got home. We had several overlapping days, sharing meals in close quarters, so It was extremely likely that we were all exposed in some way and also very likely one of us had covid asymptomatically. Throughout the week, everyone had some sniffles here and there which we all just assumed was the cold weather, and I don’t think anyone expected that one of us might have been exposed. We were now faced with a decision to finish the final dive at the risk of someone having Covid and getting seriously injured or worse, or canceling the dive. We weighed our options and evaluated how everyone felt. In my heart I knew the answer as soon as I heard the news and in the end despite feeling ok, we decided to play it safe as a team and cancel the dive. This meant that I couldn’t finish the class and I’d have to reschedule, or finish it with another instructor. I knew it was the right decision and I felt good about our call despite knowing what it meant. Most importantly we would all be safe and while many people may have decided to finish the dive at risk, it’s one of those situations where hindsight would be 20/20 if there was indeed some type of accident. “Why did you guys continue the dive knowing someone may be at risk?..” etc etc. It truly was the right thing to do. It was also heartbreaking.
I was in shock and trying to come to grips that Tech 2 was over just like that. Naturally there was a somber mood and for at least 20 minutes after our meeting I literally didn’t know what to do with myself. The usual hustle and bustle of getting gear prepped for the dive was gone and replaced only by silence. The garage door would remain closed.
I needed to focus my energy on how to get home. I was scheduled to do a rapid antigen test at Vancouver airport the following day which would clear me to fly. However if I failed the test I would be stuck in Canada under quarantine for the next 14 days. This was not ideal to say the least. We joked earlier in the week about me needing to escape Canada and walk across the boarder but now this was a very real possibility. I spoke to Jon and SJ and we came up with a couple of plans. I was going to find a private clinic to do the antigen test and figure out if I was positive or negative. If I was negative, I’d be good to fly and wouldn’t need to do the test at YVR (Vancouver Airport) in the morning. If I was positive, Jon and SJ would follow me back to Vancouver where I would drop the rental car off and they would mule me to the boarder with my gear. I could walk across and try to find and uber to get me to a rental car place or a hotel by the airport. At that time domestic flights didn’t require covid tests so I could safely fly home from within the U.S. (under the radar so to speak) I debated if ethically I needed to take train home or get a rental car and just drive all the way but I decided I would cross that bridge if I came to it.
I was suddenly feeling very home sick, sad, and really anxious about everything. This was the last thing I expected to be doing today especially since the week had been going so well. I began searching online for a place that can do a rapid test and I found one in Victoria called Boundless Medical. I called for an appointment and jumped in the car and headed south. In many ways I was lucky that I could find a place and get an appointment that quickly. During the drive south it was hard to wrap my head around what was happening. I was very much lost in deep thought which helped pass the time quickly.
Boundless Medical was inside an old mall called the University Heights Mall. I imagine this was the place to be 30 or more years ago but these days 75% of the shops are closed up and vacant. The shops that were open were random small businesses that sold things like essential oils and had poorly hung banners for signs that covered up the long gone popular chain store signs of yesteryear. There were a few other people milling about, but for the most part I was alone. The mall was taking it’s last few breaths of life, which I assume was in part due to Covid and in part due to obsolescence; likely because someone built a bigger more fancy Mall near by. The ambiance was somewhat post apocalyptic. I suppose to save money, most of the lights were off making it pretty dark inside and smelled old, dank, and musty. I wandered around a bit because I was early and tried to find a bathroom, which I finally did, located in an adjacent small grocery store. Once it was time for my appointment I walked in and was greeted by a very pleasant man working at the front desk.
I was the only person in the waiting area so I was seen pretty quickly. The same man that greeted me called me back to a small room and he proceeded don a tivek suit, gloves, and full face shield. Next he shoved the testing swab stick up my nose and into my brain like they did at the Vancouver Airport when I arrived; he was nice about it though. The Canadians take this coving swabbing seriously. Once I had my sinuses thoroughly cleaned of any remaining contents, the nice gentleman ushered me out the door and told me he would have results in about 30 minutes. As my fate was being decided, I wondered around the mall some more mostly just killing time. There was literally nothing I wanted more than just to be flying home at that very moment.
I anxiously headed back over to the testing place and the gentlemen handed me my results which read NEGATIVE in big bold letters. I was relieved to say the least. Well at least I can fly home I thought. I texted our T2 group chat to let everyone know I “passed”, then I started driving back north.
I wasn’t in a huge rush at this point because earlier in the week I had booked a ferry ride out of Victoria for 9pm that evening and a hotel near the airport since Saturday’s are typically very busy with people leaving the island, it’s not something you want to drag your feet on. I spent the majority of the drive back to Duncan internalizing. I didn’t listen to any music, I just felt lost and sad as I drove. I hadn’t thought about my Mom much most of the week because I was so busy, but now the thoughts of the dealing with the mess revolving around her estate, overwhelmed me. When I got back to the house, Guy wanted me to do my written final and he gave me one more lecture. This was to do whatever we could to wrap up the class so that all I had left was the last experience dive, whenever that could be. We briefly discussed options about how that might work but unfortunately nothing concrete came of it. He was scheduled to go to Mexico in February or early spring, and he said he “might” stop in Florida on the way. I texted Kirill and explained the situation to see if he could have some time to finish my last dive but he was also booked solid for several months. I really wanted to finish as soon as possible because I knew the shit storm of what I’d have to deal with over the next several months; It all seemed very depressing and hopeless and I truly worried I may never finish Tech 2.
I sat quietly and worked on my final exam which took me about 40 minutes and when finished I went for a walk while Guy graded it. When I came back he told me I passed the exam and we did a “debrief” despite not finishing the last dive. Typically this is a happy time. Getting the debrief in some ways is the final act of a course which represents the seal of approval from the instructor (if you pass). But this was much different, it was completely open ended. Once the debrief was over, there was nothing more for me in Duncan. It was about 3pm in the afternoon and I had some time to kill so I slowly got my stuff packed up, thanked everyone for their hospitality, and decided to head south to Victoria with the hope that I could get on an earlier ferry. The sun was setting as I was driving and it was very pretty but I was definitely not in the mood to enjoy it much. I made good time back down to Victoria and had good luck that the line was short at the ferry terminal. I was able to get on an earlier sailing back to Vancouver.
Once I was back on the mainland I made my way over to the hotel; A Days Inn I had booked. It was in what seemed like a not so nice part of town just outside of the airport. The parking lot behind the hotel and was super dark, full of trash and broken glass. I didn’t feel great about leaving the car there and I wasn’t about to leave my gear in the car while I slept. But I was tired from the long stressful day. I walked into the hotel hoping it was nice but it was disgusting. I have a pretty high tolerance for scummy hotels but this place was truly gross. It smelled like stale cigar smoke mixed with some type of cleaning solution and the carpet in the lobby had a thick film of greasy grime. If this is the way the lobby looked I could only imagine how the rooms were. As I waited in line, I did some googling and started reading some reviews. I quickly realized that where I booked my last night in Vancouver was also a “Quarantine Hotel” where people are forced to live for two weeks. I didn’t even bother to check in, I instead canceled my reservation on the spot and got back into the car. I sat in the parking lot for a few minutes and found a nice (a bit more expensive) hotel, The Westin Wall, closer to the airport. I promptly drove over there and went in to the lobby, which was clean and fresh and asked if they had rooms. Fortunately they had some vacancy and I was able to get in. The Westin had a nice well let garage parking lot but I still didn’t leave any gear in the Rav. Once I was settled in my room I tried to find some food but the restaurant was closed so I just got a snack from the vending machine and called it a night. I went to bed feeling pretty shitty. I wasn’t disappointed with our decision. I was just disappointed that I had gotten so close and had to live with something unfinished.
The next morning I woke up early to get to the airport. I didn’t know what to expect so I was a few hours early. I said goodbye to the trusty Rav as I dropped it off at the rental car place and made my way through security. All of my bags got searched and I had to explain what some of the dive gear was but other than that it was fairly uneventful. I was supposed to have a connection in Denver so I wasn’t quite sure how customs would work but I was pleasantly surprised to learn that there is an “American” side of the Vancouver airport and you go through customs before you leave. I have global entry so I didn’t have to wait in line and within a few moments after talking to boarder patrol, I was “back in the USA”. even though I was still in Canada technically. Once I was through customs I made my way through some doors and as if by magic all the stores were “American” It was neat. So I found some breakfast at a little coffee place and then made my way to my gate.
The flight home was uneventful. Certainly it could have been much worse and I consider myself lucky to not get stuck in Canada. On the flights, listened to music and replayed a highlight reel of events throughout the week. I schemed ways I could complete the class and wondered how long it would be before I could finish. I didn’t want to wait long but would I have much choice? Once I landed safely in Orlando, I couldn’t help but smile a bit because I truly had one a hell of an adventure…and it wasn’t over yet.